Dearest (London Film Festival 2014) Review
One minute, 3-year-old Tian Peng is running along a Shenzhen street towards his mother’s car. Blink, and you might miss a mysterious figure snatching the boy in a scarily professional kidnapping carried out so swiftly, there’s clearly been a great deal of practice. As it turns out, the divorced parents – Tian Wen-Jun (Huang Bo) and Lu Xiao-Juan (Hao Lei) – are among many victims of child abductors who feature in Dearest, which dedicates its hugely engrossing first half on a support group unable to wake up from the nightmare. They even have a song: “I cry no tears when I’m hurt/ I have invisible wings that carry me over despair...” Deliberately cheesy, yes, but also an effective coping method brought out in high volume unison when any members are too far down in any aforementioned despair.By picking a hot topic loosely based on a true story, director Peter Ho-Sun Chan has the emotional beats already written for him. While Dearest largely employs conventional string cues for predictably upsetting scenes, it also plays into the torment that never leaves if there’s no resolution. A year passes: the parents still anxiously dedicate days and nights to handing out fliers, raising awareness, and chasing any leads. Even sitting on a long-haul bus journey is an opportunity to gaze through the window, spying for any unusual shadows or faces in the distance.However, Dearest changes gear midway and, while still riveting, shifts into uncomfortably fascinating subject matter by focusing on the abductor’s wife, Li Hongqin (Zhao Wei). As the boy’s loving mother, she claims to have been informed the child was adopted, and sees no reason to believe otherwise. There’s even an element of last year’s Like Father, Like Son in how the situation questions whether parenthood is more dependent on biology or who’s physically present during those formative years. The new mother, although technically a criminal, is the film’s most human character and clearly not a monster – although when you see the sleepless support group hunting for their stolen children, it’s apparent Dearest is far more complex than just any sob story. Definitely worth checking out if you can.’Dearest’ is playing London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Official Competition strand. Ticket information can be found here.